Tag Archives: Wisconsin

Some overdue Ohio State Big Ten championship thoughts

So, it’s been a week since Ohio State throttled Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

In an effort to cover that for Buckeye Sports Bulletin and then get back into some semblance of what passes for a normal life during the 36 or so weeks of the year that are not college football season, I haven’t taken the time to get down much about what I thought about that whole thing. I don’t mind giving things some time to sink in, anyway, so I can’t say I went out of my way to sort things out. Because a lot has happened both with Ohio State and some of the programs that are of interest to Ohio State in one way or another.
Continue reading Some overdue Ohio State Big Ten championship thoughts

2014 Big Ten football picks

I think this will be one of the better Big Tens we’ve seen in the past decade or so, but I’m not sure there is an elite team in the league. There should be depth, and that could set things up for a strong 2015, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Ohio State is rebuilding on defense, but that unit could hardly be worse than it was when the ’13 season concluded, so it’s hard to count that as a negative. Michigan State’s offense was a sore spot early last season but finished on a high and returns almost everyone of consequence. They’ll have some new faces on the offensive line, but that unit wasn’t great anyway so they can probably get by with an average front again this season all things considered. Teams may play them differently now that Connor Cook is a known commodity, though. How he responds to that will tell a large part of the tale this season. Recent conference history is littered with quarterbacks who looked good early in their career but plateaued. Big Ten logo

Michigan State is, pardon the pun, green in some spots on defense, and it is unlikely the Spartans will be as tough there regardless of how good coaches Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi have proven to be on that side of the ball. The same can be said of Ohio State’s offensive line, though, so it all could be a wash when the teams play Nov. 8. Continue reading 2014 Big Ten football picks

Big Ten West spring football review

After a bit of a delay for some NFL draft coverage, we have finally wrapped up our spring review for Big Ten football at BuckeyeSports.com. Big Ten logo

Earlier we took a look at the East. Now comes the West, which should have an interesting race.

Iowa and Minnesota both showed great improvement last season while Nebraska and Wisconsin have questions but remain contenders.  Continue reading Big Ten West spring football review

A Last Look at the Big Ten Bowls

Earlier, I took an overview of the Big Ten and what it needs to bounce back from a very poor 2012 football season. I take a lot more from the regular season than the bowls, but another sub-.500 record in the postseason certainly doesn’t help the cause of the league.

As far as the games themselves, I’m not sure we learned a whole lot.

  • The 2013 Capital One Bowl was really a quintessential 2012 Nebraska performance as the Cornhuskers gained 443 yards of offense but allowed 146 more than that. They put up 31 points (including an interception returned for a touchdown) but lost by two touchdowns. In short, the offense and defense were both spectacular, one good and one bad. I’d say personnel is the main explanation on both sides – Taylor Martinez progressed significantly (but still has more room to improve even more as a senior) and Nader Abdallah stepped up in the wake of I-back Rex Burkhead’s injury-plagued senior campaign. Aside from Burkhead (whom they’ve shown they can live without), the only real weapons they lose are a pair of talented tight ends, so the offense should continue to hum. Defensively, a bunch of seniors are walking out the door, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing. The talent has steadily dropped on that unit for three consecutive years, and the production has followed. Some new blood could be good, although I would rate Will Compton, Baker Steinkuhler and Eric Martin as players who will be missed. I also think the season and the game demonstrated the double-edged sword that is the multifaceted Bo Pelini (and coordinator John Papuchis) defense. A two-gap defensive line and pattern reading secondary gives the scheme a lot of flexibility, but it also leaves a lot of potential seams that can burst in the case of bad communication. To make matters worse, I don’t think Nebraska had enough guys with the talent to erase mistakes.
  • Michigan’s defensive numbers were largely a mirage. I like their young linebackers a lot, but the defensive line needs a serious upgrade. The secondary was better than it had been two years ago, but that doesn’t say much. The gaudy numbers they had as a secondary in the regular season were mostly a result of the weakness of Big Ten passing games and the weakness of the Michigan defense of line. Teams were plenty happy to run on the Wolverines until they were stopped. I thought Al Borges bounced back with a better game plan against South Carolina and he did, although it could have used some more Denard Robinson. Devin Gardner has a lot of talent, but he is still raw. Michigan has a playmaking wide receiver in Jeremy Gallon, but it remains to be seen if anyone else will step up to join him. Who knows if they will find a playmaker in the backfield, but the offensive line could be a major liability. It will definitely be young. Getting Taylor Lewan back could be a good start, but he’s not actually as productive as his accolades would indicate. That’s probably why the Michigan coaching staff barely gave him any chances to match up one-on-one with Jadeveon Clowney, who only played about half his team’s snaps anyway.
  • I suppose we learned Michigan State does not have unending confidence in Andrew Maxwell, but I guess that shouldn’t be a shock after the season he had. Of course he was made a captain before the season started. Are young quarterback in the expected to struggle, but I think the larger issue was with play calling that did not help them out. Of course, it’s hard to call plays when you can’t block anybody. The Spartans just have to get better up front if they want to be good enough to be an upper-echelon team. They should continue to be very good on defense next year even with the loss of William Gholston early to the pros. Depth is very good on the defensive line for MSU.
  • Northwestern sucked it up and got it done, actually riding a hot start to a postseason victory for a change. The Wildcats’ woeful secondary feasted on Mississippi State for four interceptions and showed some playmaking ability with six tackles for loss, including three sacks. Kain Colter and Venric Mark are wonderful skill players around whom to build an offense, but the offensive line started three seniors who will be missed. The quarterback rotation seems to need some bugs worked out, but a win is a win, especially considering the program’s postseason history.
  • Minnesota showed that it at least belonged in a bowl (for what that’s worth these days) but giving Texas Tech everything it wanted, but the Gophers couldn’t hang onto a late lead and lost on a last-second field goal. Only seven seniors started for the Gophers, who might have something in freshman quarterback Philip Nelson and sophomore running back Donnell Kirkwood. Leading tackler in the game Brock Vereen is due back at safety next year, as is defensive end Rashede Hageman (six tackles, one sack).
  • Purdue was kind enough to leave no doubt it made the right move in letting go Danny Hope. My only other thought on that game was that it will be refreshing to evaluate their 2013 roster with the impression any apparent talents won’t be wasted like they were under the Hope regime, which was plagued by injuries and undisciplined play. There are some dangerous skill guys on the roster if they all come back to play for new head coach Darrell Hazell, a former Ohio State assistant.
  • Rare is the Rose Bowl that feels like an afterthought, but it was hard to take much from Wisconsin’s loss to Stanford. Kudos to the Badgers for hanging tough after falling behind 14-0, but the Cardinal did not exactly lower the boom. Both teams were very conservative, owing to the total of 37 passes thrown and 34 points scored (not that I don’t love a good slugfest and the many varieties of running plays each team came out with). The game did serve as further validation to me of the improvement of the Wisconsin front seven, a group I was not high on at all entering the season but that turned in a really nice campaign. Most of it should be back, so that is a good building block for the new coaching staff in Madison. Nine seniors started on offense or defense for the Badgers, so they will be young and/or unproven at a lot of places in 2013.

20130111-153245.jpg

Taking Stock Of The Big Ten and the Nation

Well, another college football season has come and gone and all we learned was that Alabama is still really good and Notre Dame isn’t back yet. Oh, and following NCAA rules is a good idea just in case you happen to go undefeated unexpectedly some year. Failing that, at least don’t get caught if you happen to bend the rules.

As for the finale on Monday night, I was able to watch the national championship game without remorse for the carnage or taking any particular joy in it, either.

I respect the SEC for what it has done in terms of hiring coaches and recruiting and developing players rather then hate it for its success, and being born in the ’80s, I don’t have any strong emotions about Notre Dame.

I see the pros and cons of the whole Fighting Irish thing. There’s some arrogance there, yeah, but that’s true of many programs. My first really vivid memory of Notre Dame is Gary Barnett telling his Northwestern players to expect victory and not carry him off the field when the Wildcats win. That was almost 20 years ago. They haven’t really been good enough to be annoying ever since.

The degree to which some Irish teams have been overrated in the meantime probably helped the Big Ten, if anything. It helped vault John Cooper’s still fledgling OSU program onto the national scene in the mid-90s and many a Michigan season was set up for ultimately being disappointing thanks to a thrashing of the Irish in September.

Of course, Michigan and its in-state neighbors in East Lansing returned the favor this year, going down to Notre Dame in the first month of the season when the Irish were still trying to gain a spot in the national title picture.

As for the conference of the Wolverines and Spartans, I found the reaction to the Big Ten’s most recent bowl performances a bit puzzling. Or at least over the top.

Yes, the league won only two games, but I’m not sure if you noticed but that was what was supposed to happen. Nor was it surprising that several of the games were competitive. It’s not as if the Big Ten has been getting blown out in every game every New Year’s Day for the past five years. Yet both of these happenings this year produced a lot of hot air that missed the main point.

The problem for the conference remains what it has been since at least the middle of the past decade: inferior coaching. That is exacerbated in the postseason by systematically poor matchups that can be attributed to no other than Jim Delany.

The conference – presumably intentionally – signed up to play the best team in the Pac-10, and a bunch of team from the SEC every year. This is no excuse, just a fact. Delany is correct when he says they haven’t ducked anybody when it comes to postseason matchups. I have no problem with that, but it probably should be acknowledged when we go about wondering what’s wrong with the league.

Of course this year it did not send its best team (Ohio State), and another 8-win squad (Penn State) had to stay home as well. That kept Wisconsin out of a more winnable matchup and basically assured a Rose Bowl loss. So strictly in regards to the postseason, it’s really been a death by 1,000 cuts now for going on more than half a decade, and reiterating that doesn’t serve much purpose.

The larger problems certainly lie with general program strength from top to bottom, and those come almost exclusively from a lack of quality coaching hires in the past decade or more.

Big Ten teams and Big Ten fans can complain all they want about Ohio State’s string of high-profile nonconference losses in the middle of the past decade, but until they build a program of their own big enough to knock the Buckeyes off they don’t really have a leg to stand on.

Bad coaching hires have a tendency to create a ripple effect, too, as they can set back roster building for years.

Delany wanted his teams to face the best and play on New Year’s Day. Now he’s reaping what he sowed. But the commissioner is certainly not the main culprit here (and based on an interview he gave to the ESPN Big Ten Blog, he plans to address some of the issues). He also gave every school in the conference a financial leg up with its last TV deal and the brilliantly forward-thinking creation of the Big Ten Network, but few of them have done much to take advantage.

Despite worry about the great migration of population to the South and west, there are enough players to stock plenty of solid-to-good programs in the Midwest. Ohio State, the only school sitting in a talent rich state, might be the only one with the resources to be a consistent national power anymore. Michigan is back in the discussion thanks to its history and proximity to Ohio, but it is too early to tell what the ceiling will be for Brady Hoke’s program.

Regardless of the status of the unbeaten Buckeyes and the rebuilding Wolverines, the rest of the league needn’t be as weak as it has been for the majority of the past seven seasons, and there is unfortunately a lot of uncertainty yet on the immediate horizon across the league.

With or without Bret Bielema, Wisconsin’s days of regular double-digit wins were probably over with Ohio State’s return from NCAA purgatory and Michigan’s return from its self-imposed Rodriguezisation. Darker days may be ahead for Michigan State, too, if it gets more competition for local players it has been getting in the past few years who would have traditionally been more likely to be Buckeyes or Wolverines.

Penn State is in limbo, and Nebraska has some serious soul searching to do, but all is far from lost in Lincoln.

All of those schools – along with Iowa – have the money, fan bases and name brands to be tough outs every year even if they have little chance of being true national contenders.

I think Indiana is moving (slowly) in the right direction with Kevin Wilson, and Purdue could be, too, with newly hired Darrell Hazell.

Illinois should be better based on the population base it’s near and the popularity of football there, but it remains to be seen if they are far from needing yet another reboot.

That Northwestern can be in a bowl and be competitive every year shows anything is possible.

The league just needs coaches (including assistants) who can build and develop stable rosters. That means identifying talent throughout the region and getting it to stay home. Coaching it up wouldn’t hurt, either.

The SEC has done a better job of keeping its best players in the region going to SEC schools than has the Big Ten in the Midwest, and that is a real issue. It includes not only the handful of elite guys who have gone to Texas or Alabama or USC from Ohio but also the next-tier prospects who slip through the cracks and end up as stars in the MAC or the Big East. I respect the coaching being done in those leagues, but there is no reason for a Big Ten team to lose in recruiting to them. The difference in exposure thanks to the disparity of television contracts (and resulting revenue) should provide a major advantage for a coach when he goes into a kid’s living room.

Recruiting is an inexact science, but consider that of the eight players from the Mid-American Conference drafted last season, five were from Big Ten states. Two more were from New Jersey, a contiguous state traditionally recruited by Penn State.

Of the 12 Big East players drafted, half were from Big Ten country. That includes four from the University of Cincinnati who grew up in Big Ten country but not very near the Queen City. The Bearcat program has grown quite nicely in the past decade, but other than hometown pride, what does it offer that betters any Big Ten program? Not every Big East game is even on real television.

It is unlikely many – perhaps any – of those kids turned down Big Ten programs to go to the MAC or Big East, but that hardly absolves anyone. There are always surprise success stories, but the best coaches find and develop them consistently. Danny Hope and Tim Brewster and even Rich Rodriquez might still be in the league if they did a better job of identifying who can help them and offering them rather than letting them end up elsewhere.

Then the league might have more to look forward to next bowl season.

Bye Bye Bielema, Hello Hazell

Two coaching moves in the Big Ten this week are interesting particularly from a standpoint of program ceilings.

Before this season I had already begun to think Wisconsin’s program had peaked. The 7-5 record certainly did not change my mind despite the blowout of a wishy-washy Nebraska team in the Big Ten championship game.

I never really felt Bret Bielema was a good game day coach, but he obviously did a good job of running a program overall. I think a lot of the success on the field had to do with the fact he knew what type of guys to recruit for Wisconsin and where to find them. A lot of credit for that no doubt goes to Barry Alvarez as he laid down the blueprint and left plenty of players behind to help him get off to a good start. (Bielema’s soft landing also benefitted from missing Ohio State in 2006.)

Like any program, Wisconsin has a ceiling. That ceiling is lower than Ohio State and Michigan. Bielema probably knows that. Perhaps that’s even why he is headed to Arkansas now. My first reaction was you’ve got to get out while the getting is good.

Considering the role Michigan’s disastrous hire of Rich Rodriquez (and before that the barely noticed nationally decline in the latter years of Lloyd Carr’s tenure masked by a misleading 2006 season) and sanctions at Ohio State played in the Badgers’ rise these past three years, there is little chance he will replicate his first seven years in the next seven.

Carr’s national recruiting push opened the door for other Big Ten teams to build relationships with a lot of quality programs and players in Ohio, and Rodriquez’s bizarre ideas about what types of players he could win with in the Big Ten only made it easier to upgrade the roster.

Will he have the Razorbacks consistently contending for division titles in the SEC? I doubt it, but only time will tell. Bringing in a well-known coach with a tendency toward power football has its appeal, and Bielema cashing in now certainly makes all the sense in the world. (I kind of feel like he owes Wisconsin AD Alvarez more loyalty than that after the opportunity Alvarez afforded him in the first place, but that’s debatable.)

I think he has the right type of personality to recruit in the South, and he’s already experienced as far as going after talent in Florida. Success in those areas will of course have as much to do with his staff as anything, and it remains to be seen who he will hire.

Though Bielema made his early mark as a defensive coordinator, his Wisconsin defenses were never particularly scary.

The offenses were, but the man who schemed them up had already left for Pitt last year and took several of Bielema’s top assistants with him. The work Paul Chryst did in Madison (his hometown) rarely got the attention it deserved, but he did an excellent job playing to the strengths of his personnel while still mixing things up. As quarterbacks coach he also got a surprising amount of productivity out of a string of nondescript talents (prior to the tremendous Russell Wilson), something key to keeping the running game from getting swarmed.

The bottom line is that while Bielema put together an impressive winning percentage, it is rather hollow. He was 14-17 against the other top six teams in the league, and that includes a 3-2 mark against rival Iowa and 2-1 record against Nebraska. Despite talk he posed a threat to Ohio State, he was 1-5 against the Buckeyes. He went 3-2 against Michigan, again benefitting from the dip of that program, and was a game below .500 against both MSU and PSU.

In regards to his ability to coach on Saturdays, it’s interesting to note he lost to the two worst teams Ohio State and Michigan produced during his tenure, sub-.500 squads of 2011 and 2008, respectively.

Bielema was 2-4 in bowls, including an 0-2 mark in the Rose Bowl, and couldn’t really hope to get a signature out-of-conference win in the regular season because of Wisconsin’s pitiful scheduling habits.

Now, that is not to say the Badgers are better off without him. People tend to forget that before Alvarez came along, Wisconsin was mostly a doormat for about 30 years. Sometimes you have to know who you are and be satisfied with what you have.

Bielema’s replacement probably won’t have as good a seven years as Bielema just finished, but I doubt Bielema would have either if he’d stayed in Madison.

If they can find a better game manager who is as good at identifying and attracting players for his system, maybe the Badgers will be better. They might also be worse.

Meanwhile, Darrell Hazell’s widely reported jump to the Big Ten is intriguing in a number of ways as well.

A former Jim Tressel assistant at Ohio State, Hazell has great knowledge of the Big Ten. With roots in the east at Rutgers (among other places), he could be uniquely qualified to function in the new Big Ten after Maryland and Rutgers join the league, too.

That could turn out to be especially important at a place like Purdue, which I think along with Indiana is the hardest place to win in the league.

The fact is Hoosier State just does not produce a lot of players, and that situation is exacerbated by the fact there are two programs there to fight over them. Of course the proximity of Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan just to name three is another issue.

If there is any benefit to expansion, it’s the added money and exposure from the Big Ten Network. Hazell might be coming along at just the right time to take advantage of those things and lift up a program that has one Big Ten title in the past four decades.

This is easy for me to say because it’s someone else’s career and opportunities can be fleeting, but I am inclined to think Hazell would have been better off waiting for a job with a higher ceiling, but I guess there’s no reason he can’t follow Bielema’s lead if his star ever shines as brightly.